Under the title "Left awaits return of the 1968-69 ‘revolution'" the Dawn newspaper in Pakistan published this review. Although it questions the optimism of both Lal Khan and Alan Woods and their confidence that a new 1968-69 is being prepared in Pakistan, the author does give an honest appraisal of the content of the book.
"... a new 1968 is entirely possible in the next period" says Alan Woods in his introduction to Comrade Lal Khan's detailed study of what he calls "The 1968-69 Revolution" in his recently published book, Pakistan's Other Story. Alan Woods, renowned Marxist and an old friend and mentor of the author, bases his optimism on the prospects of the failure of the present leadership of the PPP and the return of the right wing which will trigger the kind of mass explosion experienced in the end period of Ayub Khan's rule.
He argues that since the present PPP has turned its back on the Socialist traditions of the party and ignores its founding manifesto in trying to administer capitalism in a situation where the global crisis of capitalism renders this impossible, ‘they will be compelled to carry out deep cuts in living standards' and pave the way for the rightists' return and their own defeat.
This may be a likely scenario among others in drawing room chatter, but to imagine the kind of popular surge that was witnessed in 1968-69 can again gather force and shake the corridors of power would be hard even if some more elements of that ferment could be figured into the present situation. There is a stirring in civil society following the lawyers' movement and it is wrong to say the general populace has no or little sympathy for it. But it is still a polite campaign with its moral strength and does not have the force of the 68 convulsion. And though people who were young enough then to know the direction that surge was taking may have forgotten the revolutionary character of the uprising, it should not be difficult for them to discern the difference between then and now, a difference that has gradually precipitated into the alienation of the masses from popular politics after the failure of what Lal Khan calls the 68-69 revolution.
He argues that in ordinary times society is dominated by ethics and norms of the ruling classes. All events are described in the language of the upper crust. The 68-69 revolution has also been a victim of this phenomenon in which the so-called left liberal his torians and experts have also contributed. It has been described as an antiAyub agitation, general strike for workers' demands, struggle for democracy against dictatorship etc. It was none of these asserts the author, and this is the other story of Pakistan.
The 68-69 happening was "a mass upheaval that created a revolutionary situation, the character of which was socialist. This movement not only challenged the existing order, the dictatorship, the political superstructure, but above all the existing property relations. The revolution had instilled a will and determination, a consciousness of collectivism that dared to move forward and demand workers' ownership and democratic control of industry, the economy and the whole of society." The bourgeoisie was con vinced that Pakistan was on the verge of revolution. And they were not wrong, says Alan Woods. Businessmen were paying large sums to get their money out of the country; foreign cur rency rates were spiraling and the British press thought the old regime could not hold for long. What the bourgeois politicians had acquired in ten years the masses had taken away in days. All that remained for them was what the proletariat and peasantry were prepared to hand over to them.
Lal Khan has surveyed this scene in the wider perspective of what was happening in the world at that juncture of time. He cites developments in Egypt, Indonesia, France (May 1968), the Italian "hot autumn", Ireland , Mexico, Czechoslovakia, the USA and the Vietnam war and then revisits Partition, analyses the Communist Party and the degeneration of the left leadership and the early failure of democracy in Pakistan, the crossing over of the fence to the American side, the emergence of the new industrialists, institutionalization of corruption leading up to the 1965 war.This whole commentary reads like new history as it looks at developments from a window on the backside of the traditional façade.
The human face of the revolutionary struggle is beautifully captured by Lal Khan in the chapter ‘Witness to Revolution' describing the activities of over two dozen workers in different parts of the country. It is a very readable portion, Munnoo Bhai quoting ZAB: ‘We may not mean it but they mean it' after an impromptu address to village folk chanting ‘Socialism, socialism!!' Chapter 7 of the book dealing with the crisis of the Left leadership is a profound analysis of the leftist scene from the Marxist view point going over the differences that resulted in the cleavage in the camp between Stalinism and Maoism, Lenin and Trotsky down to politics at home in the populism of Bhutto and the ideological confusion. Chapter 8 is again history discussing the sad saga of dictatorship and democracy taking sweeping views of General Zia, Benazir, the assassination of Murtaza Bhutto, the Kargil war and Musharraf stretching across to the present, the lawyers movement, Benazir's assassination and the third term in power of the PPP.
What has happened, what has gone wrong with the state of Denmark? The 68-69 revolution had such a promise. All the ingredients of a classical revolutionary situation were present, except one: the revolutionary leadership. The movement in Pakistan , given correct leadership , could have led to a peaceful seizure of power, muses Alan Woods. But just as in France and Italy in 1968-69, the weakness was in the leadership. Neither Bhutto nor the National Awami Party were prepared to take power.This was what paved the way for the military coup. The new leadership of the PPP is sailing on a different boat towards different shores. Lal Khan thinks it is adrift. It is on course, moans the plaintive voice of the regime's spokeswoman, Sherry Rahman.
[The original is available on the website of Dawn]